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Ralph Towner / Paolo Fesu: Chiaroscuro

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In a stuffed, empty room, rays of moonlight spill through a cobwebbed window and come licking a tired hardwood floor to the feet of an old, stiff chair. On it, the silhouette of a guitar; its strings, silent. At its side, a second chair with an embossed trumpet planted alongside a lonely music stand completes the tableau. Music was made in this imaginary place. But the tones have since vanished in the still air, leaving a feeling of nostalgia and of deep solitude. Moments before, two artists deeply lost in concentration—acoustic guitarist Ralph Towner and trumpeter Paolo Fresu—painted soundscapes so penetrating that even light particles convened into joyful rounds. Chiaroscuro, where light dances in the darkness.

The music they created took control of their bodies, uncontrollable like a cold-water stream yet evanescent like a summer thought. Its energy so strong it almost made their hands falter. Swept by invisible waves, lost in a sea of acute sensations; a feeling akin to an out-of-body experience. Crystallized in his concept of "flow," this state of being described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one these two master musicians know all too well.

Towner has presumably experienced flow countless times while going head-to-head with his music, alone on the big, empty stage. Captured in stellar ECM recordings like Solo Concert ( 1980), Anthem ( 2001) and Time Line ( 2006), these documents serve as witnesses to his superior musicianship and ability at getting deep into the music. A capable player in his own right, Fresu also knows, first-hand, the tranquil force of these momentous experiences. Like the seamen of his native Sardinia, he has learned to connect and make one with the ocean's perpetual chant. Be it immersed in Spanish mime Joan Miguell's choreographies, guitarist Nguyen Le cross-cultural constructs or in his own projects, the trumpeter has repeatedly demonstrated he can paint in music what is invisible to the eye. It should come, then, as a surprise to no one to see the two team up under the amicable auspices of Manfred Eicher's company.

Chiaroscuro is a beautiful recording, the kind that calls for listeners to solemnly bow their heads and get lost in its sounds. The aptly-titled "Sacred Place," for example, is one of many pieces that carry into its conduct something profoundly solemn, something of seraphic beauty. "Wistful Thinking," with its cascading motives and delicately arpeggiated harmonies, is another composition most fitting to the meditative aura instilled by Towner's coruscating finger-picking and Fresu's velvety breath. And, the ebb and flow of Miles Davis "Blue In Green" not only evokes the late trumpeter's musings, but the impressionistic chording of his choice pianist, Bill Evans.

Alas, the pleasure only lasts for 44 minutes. But, scarcity is a good thing. Records like Chiaroscuro are rare and are to be cherished.

Track Listing: Wistful Thinking; Punta Giara; Chiaroscuro; Sacred Place; Blue in Green; Doubled Up; Zephyr; Sacred Place (reprise); Two Miniatures; Postlude.

Personnel: Ralph Towner: classical, 12-string and baritone guitars; Paolo Fresu: trumpet, flugelhorn.

Title: Chiaroscuro | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ECM Records

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